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The Alchemist


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Stewart 15th December 2005 03:04 PM

 

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is billed as a modern classic, yet I find it difficult to discern why. It has the feel of a fable; from a time as hazy as the desert in which it is set, and carries the lessons on life one would expect from such a parable. The feelings of distant memory that it creates, however, fashion a gap between the book and the reader.

 

It begins with Santiago, a shepherd boy, who gives up his customs to follow a dream he has, a vision of treasure found at the Egyptian pyramids. Along the way he meets a king, a crystal merchant, an Englishman, and an alchemist; all of whom, with their passing involvement, provide him with a piece of the spiritual jigsaw that is his life. Finally, when he arrives at the Egyptian pyramids, he learns a lesson in life that brings him happiness.

 

The novel is short, and, while it gets its message across, a number of other things suffer. The characterisation is lean; everyone is faceless, ageless, and speaks with the same voice, a voice of implied wisdom. Most characters are also nameless; even Santiago, the protagonist, is simply referred to as ‘the boy’ throughout. Setting, also, is a casualty of the book; while we follow Santiago through the desert, we never truly get the feeling of being there. We don’t feel the heat, thirst for water, or shiver when night falls.

 

The prose in the book is extremely simple, giving The Alchemist the feel of a children’s book. Adjectives, especially when necessary, are rare, so that most things are described as ‘the desert’, ‘a horse’, or ‘some wine’. The desert has no texture, the horse no character, and the wine no flavour. Repetition, also, lengthens the book so that, once wisdom has been spoken, it echoes through the narrative so that each action can be credited.

 

The Alchemist is a quick read, but it’s not a good read. It has the feeling of a bonding session in the workplace where you discuss the implications of pseudo-situations, only moved from the office to the desert. It’s a self-help book disguised as a novel, the “secrets” of life, though hardly life-changing, are listed as stages in one boy’s discovery. I hope you discover this review before the novel.

 

 

 

Lei-Lei Jayenne 5th January 2006 11:11 AM

 

I recently read both The Alchemist and The Valkyries for the first time, and I have to admit that i thought The Valkyries a far superior book. Personally I think The Alchemist is a book that could mean something to the reader depending on what is happening in their life at the time. It seems a book for those going through a transitional period. When I finished it, my first thought was that it may have meant more to me whilst going through puberty, or leaving home for the first time, for example.

 

The Valkyries, however, i thought rocked.....

 

 

 

crispychez 20th January 2006 12:51 PM

 

I read this book in about 2001 simply because I had gone to visit a friend in Italy and finished my book and she had it in her apartment. I re-read it I think in 2003 after it was quite highly rated in the Big Read hoping I had missed something. Both times I read it within a few hours and was dissapointed - I agree with what has been said above mostly and just don't understand how it received so many votes in The Big read.

 

 

 

Flingo 20th January 2006 02:36 PM

 

I have a friend who rates this incredibly highly. She practically forced me to read it, I've just reread Stewarts summary, and cannot remember any of it.

 

I always feel that a "classic" should leave some sort of impression with you - and many do. For me The Alchemist was not one of them!

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  • 3 months later...

I thought this book was complete rubbish - I can't go into detail why since I can remember practically nothing about it apart from it being full of lots of new age nonsense under a guise of magical realism. The only other one of his books I've read is Veronika Decides To Die which was far, far better.

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  • 7 months later...

I agree with most of the comments so far. Especially how this book means more to someone depending on what is going on in their lives. This is the case for me.

I read this in hospital waiting to go down for an operation. It had a calming effect and made me very optimistic about my impending recovery.

I saw a lot in the message because I'm hoping that this will be a big transitional period in my life and the story just seemed to fit.

 

As for it's literary merits, well, there aren't that many are there!

It's a simple story, simply told. But I image that is a reason for it's popularity.

This sort of book always makes me wonder if it would be better if I could read it in it's native language?

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  • 1 year later...

I read the Alchemist a number of years ago and thought it was good. Reading through the comments below I agree, i cannot remember much of the book. If i try i can remember the general gist but not the life lessons which were told.

 

Not as memorable and great as i'd hoped. This said i have read a lot of his other work which i would recommend.

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  • 3 weeks later...

On the back cover of this book it says:

 

"His books have had a life-enhancing impact on millions of people" - The Times

 

"One of the few to deserve the term pulishing phenomenon" - Independent on Sunday

 

Which just goes to show you can't believe anything you read in the papers.

 

Utter twaddle, I'm surprised I got to the end.

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  • 4 weeks later...
On the back cover of this book it says:

"His books have had a life-enhancing impact on millions of people" - The Times

I can relate to that.

I read this book a couple of weeks ago and really, really loved it. This book is so meaningful. You can read it with with so many different thoughts on your mind. It shows a great spiritual journey. I read this with my RL book club and everyone got something different out of it but basically, everyone loved it.

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  • 1 month later...

I was very eager to read this book, as it had been recommended by a friend, whose account of it enthralled me. However, the book I read was much different and then I realized he had been talking about another, prior (and hopefully much better) Alchemist.

 

I was disappointed with this book, I read Veronika decide morir and was OK with that one, at least I enjoyed the imagery, but thought Coelho's Alchemist didn't offer much to me.

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  • 6 months later...

Interesting. I had to go and get my copy to check the back cover. Yes it's the same book that is commented upon in this thread. I had started to wonder. I read the book a couple of years ago and to be honest couldn't remember alot about it but I have just had a quick flick through it and it has come back to me.

 

I don't think that I read this book with any particular expectations and certainly did not read it for any life changing experience (routinely I disregard the waffle that sits on the back cover) - I have almost enough life changing experiences every second of every day of my life and will continue to do so until someone nails down the lid.

 

I did however read it for what it was to me, a story about a boy called Santiago , in much the same way that I have read of a man called Candide , or a Plowman called Piers or a knight called Don Quixote. As such, as I began the tale, 'I set out to roam far and wide through the world, hoping to hear of marvels' Piers the Ploughman, Langland C14th. And in fact that is what happened. It was a book that I enjoyed without complication and I hope that the somewhat harsh words of some of those who have written on this thread on this book will not deter others from dipping into Santiago's world.

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  • 2 months later...

Mr meg found this in the street, and I took a casual look at it over a cup of coffee. It was interesting enough for me to continue, and I was initially intrigued by the various allusions to Jewish and Christian ideas.

Santiago's first few mystical encounters were diverting, and I was anticipating him eventually achieving some dramatic spiritual enlightenment. Unfortunately the story seemed to lose its way in the desert, and to my mind ended rather feebly

I was irritated all the way through to him being referred to as 'the boy'. It's not as if we hadn't known his name from the beginning, nor that he was particularly young.

 

I suppose that to some extent this book could be considered 'life-changing' in that, for some reason, it has restored my appetite for reading even though I found the story disappointing.

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  • 2 years later...

Paulo may be famous for Alchemist, and though I did like the book in parts and the witty pearls of wisdom, I was not really impressed till I read the very end. I think it is a book that forces you to re-evaluate your thoughts, your beliefs.

 

I also liked The Valkyries much more than Alchemist. Could not digest the soul mate concept of Brida, but was awed by Valkyries. Still, I thought he is talking about angels, magic and such humdrum to impress his readers. And, while I did read his four books, I could not understand his actual philosophy.

 

But, then I recently read Confessions of A Pilgrim by Juan Arias. It is a sort of biography cum interview of Paulo Coelho, and as I read it, I saw the real Paulo Coelho, a vulnerable, socially inept man, who was treated horribly by his own parents, even sent to a mental asylum and jail. And, all this happened just because he was artistically inclined. He did struggle hard to prove himself and I think thats why he can now write stories that may appear strange to most of people but can touch the hearts of the other million.

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I read this two years ago (post lost), I found the book underwhelming and did not like it. It just was not for me. fortunately it was relatively short so in that regard it was good.

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  • 2 months later...

This is not a bad book! Neither,unfortunately,is it a great one. As many before have commented, the prose was overly simplistic and repetitive, as well as lacking any sort of evocation of place. And the characters were all 2 dimensional. It could have been the great book the reviewers claimed it was if these points had been addressed. But it is still a good book and worthwhile read because the true test of a fable(which this is, rather than a novel) is in the story itself and the lessons which can be learned from it and this is a good story with important (though somewhat heavy handed) lessons to take away.

 

I wasn't really a fan of this book. It had good ideas, but I just didn't care for his writing style: too thin, too simple, too light. It also had the most hateful discussion of love that I've ever had to endure.

If this is in reference to the communication between Santiago and the desert,wind and sun, then I must say I completely disagree. This was all metaphorical and Love was being held up as the motive force behind creation,the creative impulse itself, the glue which binds all of life together. I thought it was one of the best parts of the book

 

I thought this book was complete rubbish - I can't go into detail why since I can remember practically nothing about it apart from it being full of lots of new age nonsense under a guise of magical realism. The only other one of his books I've read is Veronika Decides To Die which was far, far better.

This wasn't new age nonsense! These are ancient teachings found in every mystical sect of every spiritual discipline. I grant you some of it was a bit murky, and that the new age charlatans have plagiarized many of these ideas, but this was not nonsense. All of us would do well to remember that our destiny is in our own hands, that our greatest treasure is in our heart, that everything is connected, and that we are the loving creation of that which wants nothing but the best for us.

 

Mr meg found this in the street, and I took a casual look at it over a cup of coffee. It was interesting enough for me to continue, and I was initially intrigued by the various allusions to Jewish and Christian ideas.

Santiago's first few mystical encounters were diverting, and I was anticipating him eventually achieving some dramatic spiritual enlightenment. Unfortunately the story seemed to lose its way in the desert, and to my mind ended rather feebly .

I thought the ending was very strong. First Santiago finds/ remembers the spiritual treasure in himself, and then finds the worldly treasure which enables him to live his life in splendor. Seems like a great way to wrap up this little fable.
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It's a long time since I read thisand I was surprised that I don't seem to have written about it in the past. I can't remember it in detail,but I remember liking it for its straight- forward, simple telling. This is not a trait that always works, but perhaps fitted the characters in the story. I agree, though, that maybe the language lost some poetry in translation.

 

The spiritual journey didn't match my own beliefs but had enough to offer as just that, a spiritual journey and I found that I could empathize..

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I thought that I had commented on this thread under my previous guise as 'Petra' but it would appear not.

I read this during an especially quiet day at the office. I found it to be a nice, easy read and enjoyed the idealistic style of the writing. I think it has a place as a good ditty to read if you have an afternoon free but would be unlikely to be treasured as a repeated reading favourite.

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This wasn't new age nonsense! These are ancient teachings found in every mystical sect of every spiritual discipline. I grant you some of it was a bit murky, and that the new age charlatans have plagiarized many of these ideas, but this was not nonsense. All of us would do well to remember that our destiny is in our own hands, that our greatest treasure is in our heart, that everything is connected, and that we are the loving creation of that which wants nothing but the best for us.

Isn't it nice when we can agree to disagree?   Six years on my opinion stays the same, but with added adjectives - I still think it's clappy-trappy new age nonesense.

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